Thursday, 22 August 2013

The Importance of Girlfriends When You're a Girl

This is should be short because it is B.A.'s birthday and I have to clean, shop, cook, bake and possibly get to Polish Mass because it is also the Feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland. Not being Polish, I feel no obligation to celebrate the Feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland, but I would like to anyway. (Update: Whoops. I am credibly informed that although it is the Feast of the Queenship of Mary, the Feast of her Queenship of Poland is some other day.)

When I was in Gdańsk I went to Mass every day because my hostess Marta tries to get to Mass every day, and I thought this was very beautiful. It is very easy to get to daily Mass in Poland because there are churches everywhere, and usually at least one person praying in any city church at any time of the day, and the priests show up to say Mass in such a way that you know they would show up even if nobody else did.

This was splendid and heartening, and what was also splendid and heartening was spending four days with a cradle Catholic woman my own age. I know many of my readers really prefer the company of men and feel like fish out of water when with fellow women, but I am definitely the kind of woman who enjoys being around other women. This is not to say I don't like men, but--.

Hmm. How to explain that "but"?

The wonderful thing about being in all-girl groups and activities, like Girl Guides and girls' school, is that although you compete a bit, you also work together and there is no mental adjustment for the presence of men. There is also no competition for men. You can just forget all that for as long as you are in the all-girl environment, learning how to tie a parcel or prepare a slide for the microscope. And you can talk endlessly, effortlessly obeying the social conventions around women's conversation you hopefully have mastered by the time you leave primary school.

But at the same time, for 99% of women, you pin your hopes for romance and family life on men, which means there is (or should be) a certain amount of detachment: you don't go out of your mind with jealousy when your friend falls in love with some guy. Sure, you might feel a bit neglected, but your heart doesn't snap in half. And this means women can relax around each other in a way we probably shouldn't around men. For example, you can tell a woman all about the lingerie your other friend got at her bridal shower and have a good laugh, whereas you can't tell a good male friend all this stuff without him silently asking the perpetual silent man question, "Why is she telling me this?"

From a cradle Catholic point of view, it is relaxing to be around other cradle Catholics because you don't have to talk about Catholicism so much. I spend a lot of time with convert men, including my husband, and I adore them all, but my goodness, do they talk a lot about Catholic stuff. Not usually about Our Lord or Our Lady, but about churches and liturgies and processions and what Pope Francis did and what Pope Benedict said and what convert Catholic wrote what about who.

Cradle Catholics, the ones who try to be faithful, don't have to talk so much. We can silently swim in a great sea of Catholicism, beyond words and sometimes even beyond thought, just believing and praying side by side. And this is what I did in Gdańsk with Marta. I am 100% sure it beat getting drunk with your mates and some Australian blokes on the beaches at Tenerife, the stereotypical modern British mini-break.

I do not, by the way, want to put up any kind of wall between cradle Catholics and convert Catholics. Unless they became Catholics just to please their fiances, convert Catholics have had an amazing experience, an at times painful and frightening adventure, and are often very impressive. Most of my favourite British Catholic writers were converts. There are a lot of leading American Catholic apologists who are converts. But there is something about growing up in a Catholic home and perhaps even a Catholic ghetto or Catholic society that is unique. Many of us North American Catholics are, by the time we leave home, Catholics In Name Only. But a Catholic childhood is a Catholic childhood, and Catholicism is in our cradle Catholic bones and blood and teeth and hair. (But I suppose that is also why cradle Catholics who hold heretical views are so confident in their heresies. You know the drill: "Well, I'm a Catholic, and I think...")

Then there is the generational thing, about which I felt a lot when I was with Marta, especially in front of the shipyard at Gdańsk, the birthplace of Solidarity. When the strikes were going on, Marta was right there. But I was watching them on TV, seeing the photos in Time magazine and observing the Polish priest who suddenly turned up in our parish, out of harm's way, so I remember too.

Generation is about what you remember. Generation gap is about memory as much as it is about "new" ideas and new technology.  

Anyway, it is funny to write so much about the joy of spending a long weekend with a cradle Catholic woman of my own generation when it is my convert Catholic husband's birthday. (Happy birthday again, B.A.!) But the point I am making is that even married women (perhaps especially married women) need female friends our own age who know and remember many of the same things we do.

This is why, perhaps, it is hard to make new women friends when you get older or move to another city: the majority of them, native to the city, are so busy with work and their families that when they have time to spend with friends, they choose their oldest friends, the friends who share the same background, values and memories. Childhood friends. High school friends. College friends.

Hard, though, does not mean impossible.

20 comments:

Anna said...

If I am not mistaken it's also the feast of Our Lady Queen of Everything Else (Queenship of Mary) ;)

Seraphic said...

Quite right! I have just had an email from Poland pointing out my mistake.

Anna said...

Oh my goodness. I loved those paragraphs about the cradle vs. convert experience. I love my convert Orthodox friends and credit some of them them with my "reversion" to Orthodoxy as an adult, but some times converts drive me absolutely bonkers. Don't tell them I said that, tho...

"that is also why cradle Catholics who hold heretical views are so confident in their heresies. You know the drill: "Well, I'm a Catholic, and I think...""

This.

Sarah said...

Meh. I spent a long time wondering why I have gone my whole life having hardly any close relationships with girls. My formative friendships have been almost exclusively male.

I've had maybe two female friends that stick out as close, but these girls also tend to be less on the girly side.

I used to worry a lot about this, as if there was something wrong with me because I couldn't bond with women like I bonded with men. But I've since learned (partially through therapy) that some women just happen to have personalities that are found more often in men, and therefore find better understanding there, and less emotional stress trying to live up to expectations that they can't meet.

Conversations between my mother and I, even, can be fraught with misunderstanding based on things "normal" women expect, and what I expect.

Mom: "Why don't you ever ask me how my day was when you come home from work?"
Me: "*blank stare* What?"

Sometimes I feel like one of those clueless husbands in American sitcoms.

Seraphic said...

Well, it can be learned. I grant you it's harder to learn once you're out of high school, but there are books for men on how to cope with women and what women usually expect, so you could read them. "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" is the most popular. Husbands learn to say, "How was your day?", so you can too. You just have to remember and eventually you'll get used to it

I know what it's like to not meet bedrock expectations--at least, I think I do from having been a Canadian living in the USA. Because Canadians from Toronto sound a lot like Americans, people thought I was just a weirdo, instead of cutting me slack for being foreign.

Kate said...

I find talking to people my own age who are new to Traditionalism are the same way - I don't feel the need to discuss rites and rubrics all the time. I know all this stuff. Been doing it for years.

However, I don't necessarily agree with your thoughts about all-girl environments. True, there is no competition for men. Some girls are even more competitive with each other - who's skinnier, who's eating too many cookies, who shops where. I'm the type of girl who has always been more comfortable around men. I am most definitely feminine, but I've never been a girly girl. That sort of talk sucks the fun out of all-girl activities. I'd much rather cut the small talk and just concentrate on the important things - like baseball.

philologia said...

Happy birthday, B.A.!

Stellamaris said...

I actually find I talk a great deal about Catholicism with other Catholics. It generally tends to be the first thing you know you have in common when meeting at church youth groups, etc. Also, I have a feeling that there is a little impulse to try and show your colours unambiguously - a way of firmly distinguishing yourself from the "I'm Catholic, but..." crowd. It's also nice to be able to discuss things that non-Catholics simply don't understand the appeal of.
The difficulty I've had, especially with Catholic men, is then moving on to other topics. It's great that they're devout, it really is, but don't they have any other hobbies?

Sarah said...

I second what Kate said: competition over men is just one of many areas women compete. One of the minor ones, in fact, in my experience, since taste varies so often. I can actually only think of one time that I had problems with a girl because she liked the same boy I did.

But I can't even count the times the room has been charged with tension over who's not wearing the right thing, or competition that seems to revolve around "Who can eat the least." Academic competition, too, is far more intense between two girls than academic competition between girls and boys.

I remember a girl in high school who demanded that my English teacher tell me to stop doing so much extra credit. None of my boy classmates cared that our GPAs were equal.

Part of the reason I feel so uncomfortable with women is constantly feeling like they expect me to dress and talk a certain way, like certain books and movies, and do my best to blend in with the rest of them. Because I've often failed to do that, I've had girls spread rumors that I am either lesbian or slutty. And it doesn't matter if they think you're slutting around with men they're not interested in. It's not about that.

Anyway, I'm not meaning to rail against my fellow women as a whole. But I don't live up to the expectations most women I've encountered have, but I can't say I really want to...

Tess said...

Auntie, I read this blog post today and thought of you—the writer says that deep, genuine friendships with other women is one of the best things about being Catholic. Amen to that!

http://thetheologyoflaundry.blogspot.com/2013/08/the-sisterhood-of-lay-catholic-women.html

Julia said...

It saddens me to read that some people commenting here have had bad experiences in their friendships with women. I think I've been really lucky - I've never experienced diet wars, fashion wars or competitions for men. I've mostly really enjoyed my friendships with women, and I have more female friends than male friends. I'm going to a friend's share house today to have lunch with her and her female flatmate. It's possible we will discuss food, but I bet our main topic of conversation will be our studies (law, biomed, music).

Until the end of my year 10, I attended a Catholic girls' school. That place had some problems, but it being single-sex wasn't one of them, in my view. I think it was really good for me to spend that period of my schooling away from boys - I've heard that schoolboys can be really nasty to girls (insults, bullying etc.). I went to a co-ed government school during my final two years of high school, and I had many male and female friends there. I don't get why people argue that attending a single-sex school will doom kids to being unable to relate to the opposite sex. I didn't find it weird to be in a classroom with boys after four years with only girls.

In my undergrad years I was surrounded by men, being the only woman in my sub-field. I was glad when more women joined us. The guys were fine and I got along with most of them, but at times I felt more or less invisible.

My mother is an adult convert to Catholicism (she hadn't even been baptised), and she's said to me that sometimes she feels a little out of place among the Catholics we know because they're all cradle Catholics. Ultimately it's not a huge thing for her though (I think).

The paragraph that mentioned the lingerie made me laugh! Once I was with two friends, one a man and one a woman, and for some reason the other woman (not religious) decided to mention the colour of some lingerie she owns. The man, a Mass-going Catholic with a sweet girlfriend who everyone loves, suddenly looked very awkward and embarrassed. All the while, I was thinking, 'Shut up shut up SHUT UP SHUT UP!!!'

Sarah said...

I wouldn't necessarily call it "sad." My male friendships are invaluable to me. The only reason I ever felt somewhat unhappy not having many female friends is because I thought there must be something wrong with me.

I don't think that's true anymore. And I don't think there's anything wrong with other women. I just think I just have a personality that gets along better with men. And I wouldn't trade one of my good male friends for all the female friendship in the world. Not because they're men, but because of who they are as people.

Some women might see that as some kind of betrayal, but that just proves my point. ;)

Anonymous said...

My personality is naturally more inclined to have easy conversation with men than women. My best friend growing up was my brother. I did always have a few female friends, but it wasn't until college that I really developed close female friendships- mostly because it was the first time I met women who were not in competition with each other about grades or intelligence, and with whom I had serious common interests. It was hard for me, sometimes, to learn to make that kind of small talk, but I am so grateful I did! They are very rich friendships, and the older I get the more grateful I am for them. I also have some wonderful friendships with men (that were, before I was married, underlined by the romantic question at different points), and I also value these friendships. But my friendships with women are a great and sometimes surprising blessing to me. I am very grateful for them, especially as I await my first child.

Also, I wish the craddle Catholics I was around were more like that! I don't know if it's because I live in a place surrounded by protestants, but it seems like many of the Catholics I know talk a lot about Catholic things and only a little about funny things that happened, good books, what to make for dinner, etc.

-Anamaria

Anonymous said...

My personality is naturally more inclined to have easy conversation with men than women. My best friend growing up was my brother. I did always have a few female friends, but it wasn't until college that I really developed close female friendships- mostly because it was the first time I met women who were not in competition with each other about grades or intelligence, and with whom I had serious common interests. It was hard for me, sometimes, to learn to make that kind of small talk, but I am so grateful I did! They are very rich friendships, and the older I get the more grateful I am for them. I also have some wonderful friendships with men (that were, before I was married, underlined by the romantic question at different points), and I also value these friendships. But my friendships with women are a great and sometimes surprising blessing to me. I am very grateful for them, especially as I await my first child.

Also, I wish the craddle Catholics I was around were more like that! I don't know if it's because I live in a place surrounded by protestants, but it seems like many of the Catholics I know talk a lot about Catholic things and only a little about funny things that happened, good books, what to make for dinner, etc.

-Anamaria

Julia said...

Sarah, I didn't mean to suggest that it's sad that you prefer friendships with men, but rather that your friendships with women don't seem to have been easy (because I'm taking a jump here and assuming that that must have been hard for you sometimes). I also don't see it as a betrayal that you prefer male friends. And I will hasten to add that there are many things about young women that puzzle me even though I am a young woman, and there have been times I have preferred to be around men rather than women.

Jo said...

My experience definitely resonates with that of those who have commented above about the relative ease of male friendships-up until college, I think I had so many more close male friends than girlfriends because frankly, it meant less drama. Cultivating good female friendships has been a very valuable, but very difficult thing for me to learn. I have often wondered if this has something to do with the fact that women have a tendency to do things in groups-I think perhaps there is something about "marching to the beat of your own drum" that disrupts natural female social patterns.

Sarah said...

That's a really good insight, Jo. I am pretty introverted-- not shy, but I prefer to do things alone or very small groups. I'm a bit of a loner. And I'm not that expressive about my emotions. So, I think I just wasn't as open as other women, or as willing to do things in groups, so that may have set me apart in their minds.

Anonymous said...

As I was showering to get ready for a dinner of the "Wives of the Chesterton Society" (male-only), I was reflecting on female friendship- especially because I am still likely to be a bit uncomfortable there, around women I don't know well, more so than if I were to actually go to the Chesterton Society (except that it is all male).

I think my friendship with women has brought out some of my feminine nature that was there but a bit latent, and I am grateful for that. And for the kinship about being a woman that is especially acute now, but has been there for much longer. Even when some (most?) of the superficial things were not held in common (beyond linens and a dancefloor, no I do not care what the reception hall of my wedding looks like...), there is a deeper kinship of womanhood for which I am very grateful.

-Anamaria

tiny therese said...

I attended a women's college and had a spectacular time there. Such schools are a dying breed here in the United States though. Many people assume that you're a lesbian or a man hater. Such women can be found, but they are not the norm.

I've also had negative experiences with some female friends. Cliques, gossip, backstabbing, talking behind each others backs, and turning on each other without warning. What's especially awkward is when two of your friends are fighting and one or both of them want you to take a side. They may even tell you that if you are friends with someone that they don't like or who they've had drama with in the past that you can't be friends with them because you'd be betraying them.

Seraphic said...

Very true, tiny therese! And I'd love to say that girls outgrow such bad behaviour, but unfortunately not always. It's particularly horrible when all that happens on the job.